Set aside review in CAP `health check'

The debate on CAP gathers momentum. The Agriculture Commissioner, Marian Fischer Boel, has been putting flesh on the bones of her ideas.

The debate on CAP gathers momentum. The Agriculture Commissioner, Marian Fischer Boel, has been putting flesh on the bones of her ideas. The House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee has also put forward its ideas, thus stealing a march on the House of Lords EU & Agriculture Sub-Committee which is taking evidence with a view to publishing its ideas in the autumn.

The Commissioner, at an informal EU Farm Council meeting, reiterated the view that set aside should be reviewed as part of the CAP Health Check, and suggested that compulsory EU modulation should rise to 10% by 2013, the unspoken corollary presumably being a lower limit on national modulation. She also suggested that the minimum farm size required to qualify for Single Payments should increase from 0.3 to 1.00 hectare. She was not keen on a maximum farm size, complaining that lawyers find ways to dodge limits by splitting farms, though she did say, without going into detail, that the Commission was looking at other ways to prevent the larger payments going to the larger farmers.

The Efra committee criticised the Vision 2020 report, recommending the end of Single Payments in 2013, which was published by Defra and the Treasury last December, saying that it was an evolution of current policy, motivated by budget savings - what else would motivate the Treasury? - and published while EU negotiations were in progress, which served only to annoy other member states.

The committee proposes, instead, that the CAP should be scrapped and replaced with an "EU Rural Policy", focusing less on agriculture and more on climate change, rural development and environmental protection.

The NFU responded to the committee's ideas, saying that it overlooked the issue of "fair competition", and it was essential that reforms of the CAP applied across Europe and were matched by other competitors such as the USA. There should be no more UK opt outs, such as Tony Blair's EU budget fix of December 2004 which led to UK farmers suffering bigger deductions from their single payments than other EU farmers.

By way of a postscript, research by academics at Monash University, Australia, argues that efforts to slow climate change by using fewer fossil fuels will founder because of lack of water to irrigate crops. Even if, in the northern hemisphere, there is sufficient water, will there be enough land to produce the target quantities of biodiesel and keep the cost of food to a politically acceptable level?

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